In an exciting move to ensure climbing for future generations, Clean Climber collaborates with the boulder gyms Energiehaven, Zuidhaven, Radium, Kunststof, Krachtstof, Roest, and Apex. This partnership aims to make the climbing industry more conscious, by placing a strong emphasis on sustainability through the implementation of Clean Climber’s REsole and Recycle programs. Together, they are set to redefine the way climbers approach being outdoors, their gear and its environmental impact.
This collaboration is the integration of different Clean Climber programs at the 7 boulder gyms. Rogier Mattens, one of the founders of the boulder gyms: “We are very happy to collaborate with Clean Climber in this. For instance, the REsole program focuses on repairing worn climbing shoes. Traditionally, climbing shoes have a limited lifespan due to worn-out soles, resulting in a significant waste stream. However, with REsole, our climbers can now breathe new life into their beloved footwear.”
All the boulder gyms will act as a hub for climbers to drop off their worn-out climbing shoes, which will then be carefully repaired by skilled and licensed shoemakers.
“By extending the life cycle of climbing shoes, this program helps to reduce waste and promote sustainability within the climbing community.” says Gerard van Laar, founder of Clean Climber.
In addition to REsole, Clean Climber’s REcycle program is also available in all the boulder gyms, which focuses on the responsible disposal of worn climbing shoes. Climbers have the opportunity to bring their retired shoes to any of the boulder gyms. Clean Climber will handle the proper recycling and upcycling of these materials, ensuring that they are repurposed in an eco-friendly manner, such as making sportsmats out of the rubber.
A sustainable future for climbing
Clean Climber’s collaboration with the 7 boulder gyms marks a significant milestone in promoting sustainability within the Dutch climbing community. By combining forces, they are empowering climbers to make a positive impact on the environment. Through the REsole and REcycle programs, climbers can extend the lifespan of their gear and ensure its responsible disposal, reducing waste and conserving valuable resources.
“The boulder gyms will also serve as central collection points for climbers to participate in other sustainable initiatives, such as workshops on how to behave environmentally neutral, when climbing outdoors. Our collaboration not only enhances the environmental stewardship of the climbing industry but also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility among climbers.” says Rogier Mattens.
The partnership represents a bold step towards creating a more sustainable future for climbing. By integrating the Clean Climber programs, this collaboration sets a new standard for responsible consumption and waste management in the climbing industry. With the boulder gyms Energiehaven, Zuidhaven, Radium, Kunststof, Krachtstof, Roest, Apex and Clean Climber leading the way, the future of climbing is not only growing to new heights but also environmentally conscious.
We are pleased and proud to announce Mountain Network & Clean Climber are now officially partners. With this partnership Mountain Network is setting big steps towards a more sustainable climbing sport. Climbers at Mountain Network are now able to REsole their beloved shoes in Leeuwarden (and during the year in all 7 climbing gyms), REcycle their worn-off shoes into rubber sports mats and lost & found items that lay around more than 2 months will be sent to less privileged climbing clubs in the world. During the year Mountain Network will also provide several workshops about outdoor climbing ethics. Climbers will learn how to behave environmentally neutral when going outdoors, something that has become more and more apparent since the popularity of the climbing sport is increasing rapidly.
Working together: like a climber with its belayer
Leopold Roessingh, manager operations at Mountain Network about this partnership: “Sustainability has always been one of our pillars on which we built Mountain Network. But although we’re pleased that the climbing sport is getting more and more popular, the urgency to balance things out with the environment is also getting more necessary. With Clean Climber as a partner we are looking to meet our sustainability goals. Also a big advantage is that we’re not only addressing the sustainability of indoor climbing, but also educating outdoor climbers to be more environmentally neutral outdoors.” Gerard van Laar, founder of Clean Climber about this partnership: “We are very proud and pleased that one of the largest climbing communities of the Netherlands is ready to join forces to tackle the sustainable issues of the climbing sport. Clean Climber is committed to ensure that future generations can also enjoy the beauty of our climbing sport. We are a non-profit foundation. So a partnership like this allows us to take our message even further (beyond our national borders). And we are very pleased with that! ”
About Mountain Network
As one of the largest climbing and mountaineering organizations in the Netherlands, Mountain Network has been doing everything possible to develop climbing for more than 35 years. Climbing is for everyone. No matter the age, posture or level of experience one has. It doesn’t matter, everyone is welcome in the 7 climbing- and bouldering gyms of Mountain Network. They educate beginners on how to climb and belay safely, but also host the Dutch climbing team. And they are the only Dutch organization that provides in- as well as outdoor (abroad) climbing. Above all, Mountain Network provides a place where people can connect. After all, you rely on your climbing buddy to belay you. Or you motivate each other while climbing a mountain together. Friendship and togetherness are inseparable from our sport and Mountain Network wants to encourage that
About Clean Climber
Clean Climber’s mission is to ensure climbing for future generations. In order to do so, Clean Climber aims to bring the impact of the climbing sport in balance with its environment in order to make the sport sustainable. Clean Climber is committed to cleaning climbing areas, reusing climbing gear and creating more awareness among climbers regarding their own responsibilities. We all have an impact and can change that into having a positive impact. Let’s ensure climbing for future generations, together!
“Resoling your shoes is worth the effort. For the environment always, and for your wallet as an extra.” – Valentina Petrolli
Valentina Petrolli runs the recently founded Curada Resole. It is a climbing shoe resoling business, done by a climber who understands the requirements of a climbing shoe. She is adamant that resoling makes sense and that not doing it is actually sort of weird: “If you have professional climbing shoes, which you eventually do, then resoling will always save you money. It’s cheaper than a new pair. It just makes sense.” There’s a long-running myth that resoling may reduce the quality of your favourite pair of climbing shoes, but that is categorically false, explains Valentina: “Your shoe will be exactly as it was before resoling. You don’t need to break it in again, it won’t have lost its shape. It may have a little of its toughness and tension restored, but it won’t be a new shoe. It’ll be your shoe with a new lease on life.”
Having grown up in Arco, one of the major places in climbing history, climbing is pretty much second nature for Valentina. Resoling your shoes periodically was a natural part of that: “I suppose it has to do with economic differences; in the south of Europe, repairing is just how you do things. In the Netherlands, I see most people discard things when they break and buy a replacement. For me, that is just not what you do. It’s good that now we see this changing in the Netherlands, though people are sometimes a bit impatient and it is easy to feel the effort to get something repaired is too much.”
“It is not like regular shoes, because you’re going to put a strain on them from a lot of different angles. Everything needs to be done with the utmost care.”
As a consequence, Arco has a wealth of resolers, who are always busy, so you might have to wait for your shoes a bit: “They receive orders from all over the world. For example, foreign climbers visiting for the summer will send their shoes ahead of their trip to get resoled. It’s a serious part of the outdoor industry there.” Valentina would bring her own shoes with her on trips back home for the same purpose, long before resoling at home in the Netherlands became possible: “So, every time I visit my family my favourite resoler would be my first stop. I would drop them off and ask if they can be ready in time. Then, at some point, I thought to myself… What if I could do that myself? That’s where the resoling started.”
The Spanish Mix
What followed was a long process of research into materials and equipment needed for resoling shoes. More importantly, Valentina needed someone who would train her in the craft of resoling: “I was chatting with Domenico, my regular resoler, and asked him if he could take me on as an apprentice. That was not possible, as he had someone in training already, who had been there for two years. He did give me some very first tips to get me started. Later, one of my friends Francesco was kind enough to get me in contact with Corrado, a famous resoler. Taking me on as an apprentice was too much, but he did offer to give me a couple of days of training.” So Valentina stayed on his driveway, cooked food and provided good wine in exchange for lessons in what to do and what not to do. When she returned to the Netherlands, she started the challenge of finding equipment.
During the journey, she also found out something interesting about her home area and its crucial role in what is now modern climbing shoes: “It’s funny, I found this out during this journey. So the story is that these alpinists were climbing on these boots and reached a ceiling in their ability. So they started looking for a solution, and their eyes fell on the rubber for car tyres. Now, while that worked well, it was utterly destroyed after one climb. What followed was experiments with rubber and different components, and finally, they hit gold. To keep it secret, they called it ‘the Spanish mix’. This way, keen businesses would start looking in Spain for the rubber and not find out about their secret.”
From there on, finding the right materials and equipment to get started was a challenge. Luckily, Valentina found a community around her ready to help out. An engineering student created a custom grinder/sander for her specific purposes, and other equipment was acquired second-hand: “You need quite some specialized equipment for resoling climbing shoes. It is not like regular shoes, because you’re going to put a strain on them from a lot of different angles. Everything needs to be done with the utmost care, so after I gathered my basic equipment, I started working on old shoes I had from myself or friends. It was a daunting process.”
Valentina always has had a knack for working with her hands and found that learning the art of resoling shoes progressed rather quickly, but working many hours behind the bar and selling shoes at her local gym took its toll: “It took quite a while for me to build up the courage to fix anyone else’s shoe, but after I started doing that it went rather quickly. Soon I was swamped with orders and, in typical Dutch fashion, many requests to ‘speed things up’. I decided to launch Curada Resole officially, started working less at my regular job, and I am now very happy with my own workshop at home now.” For those interested, Curada translates roughly as ‘cured/healed’ or ‘to cure/heal’. Apt naming that is, and Curada is currently very busy.
Why can’t you speed up my resole a bit? A question Valentina regularly gets, that draws a sigh: “I usually have a pile of shoes waiting to get resoled and limited space. That means you’ll likely have to wait a little while. But more importantly, resoling is a process that needs time to be done well. I’ve seen some fairly bad resole jobs, which prove that proper service is key.” Resoling has multiple steps: from removing the soles and grinding toecaps (when necessary), cutting and shaping the new parts, glueing and applying toecaps and letting those rest for a minimum of 24 hours before being you can continue to glue and let dry the soles, and finally refine the shoes. Clearly, resoling also means stepping away from the idea of an instant-availability-cultur, yet is very rewarding.
The Bottom Line: Climbers need shoes
“Shoes are not what make you a better climber. It can help, but it is, in the end, your technique that is most important.” Valentina is adamant about this and having sold shoes to new and advanced climbers for years at Monk, she is well aware of mistakes people make: “There is absolutely no point in buying very technical shoes if you’ve just started out. You can climb on a pair of basic climbing shoes for a long time, especially if you get them resoled. I’ve had new climbers come in and demand to try on the Solution Comp, which is a pro-level shoe. I could ask them: Are you a competition climber? Are you a pro? Well, in that case, this isn’t your ‘solution’… but they will still get those and regret their decision later.” We all tend to make the same mistakes with climbing shoes, though it may be part of our journey. But creating better awareness among the waves of new climbers can be key to a more sustainable generation of climbers. After all, every climber needs a different shoe, Valentina explains: “Get good advice, especially if you can buy your shoes at a gym that has experienced climbers helping you in the shop. If they recommend that you don’t get that super aggressive, high-end shoe that Adam Ondra wears, they probably have a point…”
Getting smart with your shoes (and money)
Some basic tips Valentina shares about shoe maintenance and resoling if you intend to make this part of your climbing (you should):
Have multiple pairs of climbing shoes This might sound contradictory to the ‘consume less’ ideology, but it makes sense in the long run, according to Valentina: “If you are a climber, you want to keep climbing. If you have more pairs, you can keep going while one pair is at the resoler for 2 or 3 weeks. And you will be using them anyway because you love climbing. Additionally, different shoes have different advantages in your climbing…”
Take good care of your shoes Another no-brainer, but leaving your wet shoes in your bag for a week is a bad idea in any case. Not only is it an unpleasant experience for your olfactory system, it also speeds up the decay of your shoes. Having multiple pairs is a good idea, especially if you are a 4-times-a-week person.
Know when to get a resole When your small toe can wiggle outside your shoe, or when you can crimp with your toes like Barefoot Charles, it’s too late: “I get people that ask me to try, but there is a limit to what is fixable. Check your shoes regularly so you don’t miss your resole opportunity.”
Know when to say goodbye All good things end, even your beloved pair of climbing shoes, says Valentina: “After resoling a shoe three, maybe four times, it’s kind of done… There is a limit to how many times you can resole a shoe while the other parts are good. If you are really attached to your shoe, you could get it refurbished, but that’s a whole different game.”
Make repairing your mindset Repairing your stuff is not just a quick service, especially in a mountain-rich country such as the Netherlands when it comes to resoling. You’ll have to make an effort and find the small entrepreneurs making it their business to fix your climbing shoes, torn puffer coat and other gear. Repair is a radical act, as it means taking on a mindset that is not the convenient thing. It is the better way, though.
Interested in a resole? Get in touch with Curada Resole or check the Instagram. You can send your shoes or drop them off. Don’t ask to speed it up, you’ll get them soon enough. I got my Unparallel TN Pro’s resoled and they’re good as new!
Or any shoe, for that matter. Or any item, garment or piece of upholstery. I may use the leather for our climbing shoes in the title of this blog, but the problem leather has lies much, much deeper in the industry itself. Now, there are a few assumptions I want to address in this blog that should clarify that I’m not opposed to leather per se, but a systemic shortcoming in the industry. This should help you to make up your mind, at least with some more information.
Just to be clear, in the header you see a climber wearing a pair of climbing shoes. It’s purely illustrative, I can’t tell what these shoes are made of or am trying to insinuate anything about the brand.
Leather as a by-product
Ok, so I’m going to start with what leather actually is. It is the treated (read: tanned or processed) hide or skin of a mammal. By treating this hide/skin with chemicals, we prevent decay and enhance its natural properties. This is done in such a manner as befits the final use in an end product. A car seat has different requirements than a climbing shoe, for example, and a working boot needs to be more resistant than a supple luxury handbag.
One of the important and verifiably true arguments in favour of the use of leather is that it is a co-product or a by-product of the meat industry. This is irrevocably true, and currently, there are enormous amounts of animal hides either buried or burned because people choose vegan materials yet consistently eat meat. That sums up an alarming trend very briefly, which you can read more about in this exemplary Bloomberg article (while the article concerns the USA, the problem is global). The argument that leather is a co-product is no longer valid; thus, as the value of hides has plummeted, the amount of them simply incinerated or put in landfills is, in fact, becoming a worrying environmental issue. At the same time, we’re creating more and more plastics, which are equally if not more so problematic for our long-term environmental concerns. Even wonderful materials, such as pineapple leather, often consist of high percentages of petroleum-based compounds like polyurethanes. Plastic, you know, the stuff in our oceans. There are promising things on the horizon, but we’re not quite there yet and at the same time these by-products are piling up. Turning hides into leather can actually be considered the lesser of two evils (or three, if you consider plastic as the third option), but here lies the problem with leather… its process.
The secretive process of tanning hides
For a hide to become leather, we need to tan the hide with a chemical process. There are various forms of tanning, generally to be distinguished in these 4 categories:
Natural tanning – using tannins and animal by-products, like brains, the way our ancestors did – a very slow, and time-consuming process.
Wet-blue tanning – tanning using chemicals, with chromium as a premium component. Very fast and effective, often very bad for the environment (though chemical reclamation has changed this a lot).
Wet-white tanning – alternative method to chromium tanning in order to make a chromium-free leather. More expensive, yet just as effective.
Green tanning – alternative and experimental methods that basically rely on natural tanning methods.
You won’t find naturally tanned or green-tanned leathers in your climbing shoes, nor the green-tanned leathers, as these are very expensive. During the process of tanning, leathers are also treated to get certain properties, like water-repellency, fire-resistance, better abrasion resistance (kicking the climbing wall much?), tensile strength (get those size 44 feet in a 41 shoe), etcetera and given its first colouring.
And everyone does it in a different, secret manner, just to have an advantage over the next guy/girl/person.
The result is different products with different unique selling points. You might find that one shoe feels softer while another offers more resistance against scraping the climbing walls. The problem is, then, that it is impossible to process the leather in used climbing shoes because not only are the components and compounds all different, we don’t even know what they are to an extent.
Breaking down the breaking down
Remember that we made these gym mats from climbing shoe rubbers? In essence, the granulate of these rubbers has a similar problem, their consistency varies, and a glue compound needs to be added to turn them into mats. Leather can not really be reused in a similar manner. There are ways of upgrading leather, which is a great way to make an old leather jacket, couch or pair of boots last for decades, but you wouldn’t really do that with a bit of climbing shoe and then use it again, as the process just doesn’t allow that. And as long as no one wants to make quilts of smelly old leather, we have a leftover material, we can’t recycle or reuse.
That leaves recycling into its bare components, as the non-decaying skin can be used as a resource in many other applications, from isolation material, animal feed (you can argue if we should be doing that, though) and health products. Leather is biodegradable, yet that doesn’t mean what most of us think it does. That is not what biodegradable, in the commonly used form, means though. It means it can be biodegraded by treatment, yet that all depends on knowing its contents, which we don’t know. You would have to trace each patch of leather back to its producer, who would have to be able to trace it to its original chemical treatment. This would be a cost-, time- and resource-heavy process that is simply impossible, particularly as there is no bulk solution nor enough profit to be made from this process. There are biodegradable leathers under development, which will be able to degrade by themselves in nature, but these are far from market-ready or usable for every application.
So we burn shit. And much the same goes for plastics that are made under similar, mystical conditions.
A plea for transparency
In a world where resources are ever more scarce, we need to think carefully about the use of our materials. Leather offers a lot of advantages as a material, and the industry has, though not attaining much in the way of transparency, radically reinvented itself as an environmentally conscious one. I simply can not call it environmentally friendly, based on its alliance with the meat industry, which we all know is fairly horrible. Plastics are, in the way of transparency, a bit easier and may offer a similar solution as we look forwards. Yet to become circular, to find a solution in which we do not keep taking from the earth again and again, we need to investigate how we can reuse these materials without endless chemical investments. To find that path forwards, we need radical transparency and collaboration, industry-wide, and clear standards on production methods. This is the biggest and most daunting step to take, but oh so necessary.
What can we do?
There is no ready answer to how we move forwards from here individually, as we can not change the industry. What we can do is support brands and solutions that take the right step forward. Some climbing shoe brands have switched to vegan shoes and/or have taken resoling into account in their design and production. Others go for certifications and offer transparency as much as they can. What we can do is be as informed as we can be when we buy a pair and in how we use them (and reuse them). In the end, consumer demand is pushing change, and our voting behaviour changes policy. Like the question of leather or plastic, there are no easy answers available yet.
Going for a more circular, sustainable industry, means rethinking how we move forward. Scarpa is one of the brands taking that approach, but far from the only one!
Does a kid in a candy store ever get fed up with sugar? This thought crossed my mind as I walked into the Walls&Halls event, in Friederichshafen, last November. Two big halls filled with climbing shoes, training equipment, all types of hardware and many, I mean tons of climbing holds. Climbing holds as far as the eye reaches, you might say.
Two days on a fair like this means talking to all kinds of people, but hey, guess what: all of them seem to support our message! I didn’t meet anyone who hasn’t been thinking about sustainability of our beautiful sport. The word ‘seem’ is used here on purpose. Experience has taught us that it’s very easy to speak green words, but it’s much harder to perform green acts. Especially when it costs time or money (which is effectively the same).
Our neighbors on the floor were a couple of sympathetic Italians who create beautiful wooden holds and training devices. ‘Very nice what you’re doing with the shoes’, one of them said, ‘but look around you: what do you see?’ I looked up and saw climbing holds as far as the eye could reach. ‘I see plastic’, I answered, a bit sad. ‘Exactly!’, he replied, tapping me on the shoulder and turning around he added ‘that’s what you should be working on as CleanClimber!’
Point taken. So: how is it going as far as the big plastic issue in climbing is concerned? There were some sparks of hope. There is Ghold of course, the French brand producing recyclable holds. They started up last year and seem to have grown, which is a positive sign.
Surprising rookie is GreenHolds. Based in the south of the Netherlands this company invented a new type of climbing hold made from different, reusable types of plastic. The outcome is a result of elaborate collaboration between scientists, product developers and climbers. The look and feel of the holds is a little bit different from your classical holds and the materials can be used over and over again. Very positive point: GreenHolds are open about their process and willing to share their secrets with other companies. At least: that’s what I heard them say when we talked.
Re-soling and re-cycling climbing shoes is a great goal, but I must agree with the Italian guy: we have to do something about the plastic, or should I say the sugar in the candy store?
On behalf of the CleanClimber family I wish all of you a great holiday and a sustainable 2023!
We are not alone in the climbing world. There are many organizations taking steps forward, making a difference in the industry. Frequently, we are introducing our ideas into a climbing festival by organizing a Clean Up or speaking, but sometimes we are already aligned. The brand new Festival of Sustainable Bouldering in Milly-A-Foret is one of those and we would like to tell you more about them.
There are many names behind the event, who are both passionate climbers and locals from the town Milly-la-Forêt. The festival celebrates a century of climbing in Fontainebleau forest, but also wants to spread sustainable practices and take better care of the forest.
A sustainable climbing event
Who are the people behind Festival Escalade Milly?
The festival started with a lucky encounter between a dynamic local team of counselors and a new climbing business in Milly. Locals always saw many boulderers around, but didn’t know how to approach them. With The Big Island managers, they started to find answers and decided to work together to better welcome boulderers and to inform them about this territory, beyond just bouldering.
How did the festival get started, and what can we expect for the first edition?
What to expect? A rich program with almost all local passionate boulderers trying to bring something to this event, and in addition a real opportunity to discuss and meet other boulderers and people living and loving this area. There will be many opportunities to boulder: during the outdoor competition in the new crag, initiation at the new crag, bouldering discovery within the festival village with 3 different walls, slackline, bouldering cleaning workshop, discussion around bouldering impacts on the environment, Bleau history, bouldering injury, and the results of the photo and video competition. Did I tell you about Catherine Destivelle book sign and the opportunity to learn how to clean a boulder?
What is the idea behind the festival being sustainable? Why does it matter so much?
Because bouldering gym numbers have exploded in Europe in the last 10 years, and even if only a small part of indoor boulderers become outdoor boulderers, its still an increasing number. That impacts our a limited and fragile resource: a sensitive forest and its biodiversity. With more indoor boulderers, we see more people, which means simply more erosion of the soil and the boulders themselves (by climbing with sand on shoes or when boulders are wet and the risk of breaking grips). New boulderers also tend to have some practices which may impact the environment: amplified sound, artificial lights, waste from the camping van outside of camping areas….and climbing outside of authorized areas or opening boulders wherever they feel like it, not respecting the landowner and the environment dynamic they disturb.
Climbing is much more popular than it was a couple of years ago. Do you see the effect of this on the forest of Fontainebleau?
As per above, yes. Soil and boulder erosion are obvious signs, but wildlife dynamics need more monitoring. Especially with the more recent trends of night climbing and climbing in protected areas.
Why should climbers take care of their environment?
Is it even a question in 2022, why would we care about what allows us and so many others to be alive, happy and to realize selfish egotic dreams or sometimes just a bit of wellbeing? I think we all know we have to care for what we love, we have to care for the future, and we have to care for others.
But beyond that, the forest mostly belongs to the government or local government and has never been created or maintained for the sake of boulderers. Current costs greatly outweigh benefits, all the more than the forest is going through a major health crisis (drought, climate change) although it seems most boulderers only see a free gym and forget that the environment they want to change in the rest of the world is just in front of them when they are bouldering…they just have to turn off their speakers, fans, lights, they just have to brush their chalk, they just have to sometimes spend time working for the forest and not just with the forest.
What is to you the most enjoyable about climbing and particularly outdoors?
The “flow”, the bubble of freedom and nature, the union between the environment, my body and my mind. I don’t climb for performance only, I climb to breathe, and it’s most enjoyable outdoor.
What would you like to tell new visitors to the forest?
The forest was here before you and will be there after you, but the little you can do can contribute to this future, so please look at the forest, learn, respect and take the time to realize it’s not a climbing gym and demand our care so that our children can also enjoy it one day.
Why should climbers join you on May 6-8 for the festival?
To have the opportunity to give life to who we are, Bleau bouldering passionate, and to share our curiosity, passion, and desire to make our activity an integrated activity to this place, in the long term.
The sports mat with your old climbing shoes in it is a fact: the first floor has been laid at Monk Rotterdam.
Clean Climber started in 2021 together with bouldering chain Monk, recycling company Sympany, shoe manufacturer Stultiens and sports mat producer Stockz to make climbing shoes more circular. In February 2022 we kicked off with the largest collection of worn climbing shoes ever in the Netherlands. And as far as we know, also the biggest in the world. The climbing sport has given a clear answer: we want circular climbing shoes.
We have succeeded
The first sports mat, made from recycled climbing shoe rubber and recycled car tyre rubber, is a fact. The first dumbbells have already had a soft landing on it at Monk Rotterdam. In addition to recycling worn climbing shoes, the repair of climbing shoes has also grown, not only for climbers but also the first rental shoes have undergone a repair to extend their lifespan.
This chain of companies will continue to repair and recycle climbing shoes, with planned expansion inside and outside the Netherlands. This group of driven entrepreneurs in our small country has managed to pull this off with support from the Circular Chain Project grant. On 29 April 2022, the unveiling of this first sports floor of your old climbing shoes took place at Monk Rotterdam.
In a celebratory fashion, the first mats were unveiled in the presence of people from Monk and various partner organisations. The turnout was good, also for a special climbing clinic from none other than our very own Gerard. Later, as is befitting, we celebrated with drinks and bites.
This is one big step forward and we look forward to new partnerships and possibilities. Interested to join us or work with us? Get in touch!
You are probably reading this, because you want to know a bit more about those Clean Climber bins at your local Monk or Mountain Network gym. We’re going to tell you this in a brief format, because we know that smelly climbing shoes are not something you want to dwell on too long.
We use a ton of climbing shoes every year, some of us go through one or two pairs, some even more. These go onto garbage heaps and they don’t need to. We can actually fix them, but even when they’re completely done (is your toe poking out, then your shoe is done) we need to think what we do with them. You’ve got the 5 R’s of sustainability (refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, and then recycle) to consider here and that’s what this is all about*.
Circular Chain Project
We’re collecting these shoes as part of a circular chain project, subsidized by the RVO (CKP2100016), which means we’re trying to establish and involve the supply chain of climbing shoes. We’re talking to manufacturers, resolers, vendors and waste managers alike about what we can do with old shoes. The result is this project, where we turn used-up climbing shoes into sport mats for your local climbing gym (perhaps your gym has already pre-ordered them).
Grinding those bad boots
We’ve partnered up with a lot of folks for this project, but for now let’s focus on what happens to your trusty old pair of odorous kicks. We need a certain amount of volume to realize our goal, and that’s set at 8,000 shoes. These we take to Fast Feet Grinded, who grind down the old shoes. If you handed in your shoes in the past: THANKS! It took quite some calibration to get the setting right for their machine to grind up climbing shoes (normally, they mangle sneakers, which are a different thing entirely). All this ground rubber, we take to the manufacturer Stockz who will make our mats. That’s the game, really!** For this whole process, we work closely together with Sympany, one of our partners. They have tons of experience in circular chains with clothing-to-resource projects.
That’s not all, folks!
We are working on various other projects, like our ReSole program. Increasing scale, making things viable, it is a big challenge but we are excited and amazed by the positive reception of the climbing world. We’ve received many requests from not-affiliated gyms in the Netherlands and Belgium for our programs and in France, a sister-organization is starting up. We are still a group of volunteers, and all your help (and smelly shoes) are so much appreciated!
Want to help out, talk to us or just share your ideas? Get in touch!
* We are aware that some people prefer 6 R’s, or 10 R’s or whatever number, so mentally replace that for whatever has your preference, in the end the goal is the same.
** For this project we recycle all the rubber from climbing shoes, which accounts to about 50% of the shoe’s weight. The other 50% is for now non-recyclable, we’re working on it!
The first thing you’ve got to know about a clean-up is that you don’t do a clean-up after a clean-up… Yes, there was something remarkable during our CleanUp event in Bleau during the Women’s Bouldering Event on 17 September; Elephant climbing area was pristine! Yet, there was enough to do for the 20 volunteers who showed up for our joint clean-up with ace climber Tiba Vroom from Wildflower Climbing!
Dirty campers and parkers
Soon after planting our beach flags on the parking at Elephant, we realized there was less work to be done than expected. While the blocks had been well taken care of by a kindly group of locals in recent weeks, the main dumping grounds near the village of Larchant. Clean-ups, however, are more than just picking up rubbish. More important is our ability to meet with like-minded individuals, connect to other organizations and exchange knowledge. But we’ll get to that, first we dove into the bushes and picked them clean on the parking strip and impromptu camping spot. A lot of thrash clutters the edges of climbing areas, and while climbers are likely to be blamed, they’re probably not the culprits. Showing our good intentions by cleaning up is always a good thing in showing the locals that we, as climbers, care about the area too.
We were especially honoured by the presence of Tiba from Wildflower Climbing. The Dutch climber is building her own gym for boss-level climbers, and is a passionate voice for sustainability in climbing. Having her represent us in part during such an event is fantastic. Tiba supported us in promoting the CleanUp and warmly welcomed participants together with our ever-courteous chairman Gerard. Though there was less cleaning to be done than expected, the ever-sharp Tiba noticed an exceptional amount of chalk on the rocks and joined by a group of fellow volunteers went on a brushing spree. They also discussed chalk ethics with various visiting climbers, many unaware of its impact.
Women’s Bouldering Event
The yearly Women’s Bouldering Event revolves around climbing for women (the name does kind of give it away). The event does not exclude men, but it strives to create a safe space for women to climb, interact and explore outdoor climbing. Justina Segers, who photographed the CleanUp, also joined the climbing event on Saturday: “It is very pleasant to be among women, who share insecurities or maybe lack experience in outdoor climbing. It creates a sense of togetherness and inclusivity, where you help each other out in a non-invasive way. For me, this was a very pleasant experience.”
Meeting, Sharing & Connecting
What we like to achieve mostly on events such as these, is to connect and share our message with others. When an impromptu gap in the program opened up and allowed us to host a talk about sustainability in climbing, we obviously took the opportunity with both hands. Tiba was willing to join us on stage for a discussion on the wider topic. On behalf of Clean Climber, Justina kindly took on that role to talk about the ReSole program and other initiatives. Though there was little preparation, the talk was a big success, with both ladies speaking passionately about the topic and their appreciation of nature. Visitors participated enthusiastically, sharing ideas and experiences. Of particular interest was the participation of Francis from Chalk Rebels and local fire marshals in the discussion. Did you know a smouldering cigarette thrown in the sand can cause a fire up to three days later? Now you know, and a lot of people know. And that is the best possible result of an event for us, connecting to others and together growing our awareness.
Our thanks go out to Tiba Vroom/Wildflower Climbing and Justina Segers for their participation and support during this event in helping us reach others and spread awareness. Special thanks also to Zofia from Women’s Bouldering for having us, supporting us and so enthusiastic and kind. And to all volunteers for showing up and helping out. Everyone can be a Clean Climber. If you’d like to know more about Women’s Bouldering Event, visit their website.
Chalk Rebels are a company that we hold close to our heart, as they try to make the climbing sport better through sharing information, disrupting habits and providing climbers with excellent products in a way that we think is a bit rebellious in itself. Chalk Rebels are cool, but they’re not cool with the amount of chalk we’re all using in gyms and on the rocks. We felt that was a good topic for a blog, but who better to talk about this than the Chalk Rebels themselves? Here goes.
Just so you are aware, Chalk Rebels just released their crowdfunding for a more sustainably produced chalk. Get yours here now!
CHALK REBELS are Francis Dierick & Tianyi Gu. Passionate climbers from Belgium and The Netherlands. We produce liquid magnesium and skincare products for climbers. Our mission is to reduce the use of magnesium powder in the climbing world. Too much magnesium causes unhealthy dust clouds in climbing gyms and ugly, whitewashed rocks outside. We develop alternatives & educate about the subject.
I (Francis) find this important because after 30 years of climbing I see a huge difference on our beloved rocks. Popular areas (e.g. Berdorf) and boulders (e.g. Karma, Font) are completely white. With climbing becoming even more popular (Olympics), the over-frequency of areas may eventually lead to closures. Therefore, we try to encourage moderate use of magnesium in order to prevent further damage.
We have called ourselves “Chalk” Rebels in a kind of Anglicism because what we call “magnesium” is simply called chalk in English. Chemically completely wrong, but now established among climbers. And because we have international ambitions, we simply call it Chalk. Rolls off the tongue more easily. And many of our partners don’t speak Dutch at all. We produce in Spain, for example.
Chalky gyms, dusty workplaces
In the climbing halls, the overuse of magnesium is problematic because it creates clouds of fine dust. Not much fun for the workers. And certainly not fun when you have to vacuum up the dust every day. The impact on health is still unclear: on the one hand, the particles are too small to cause health problems in the long term. On the other hand, there is hardly any climbing hall that meets dust standards for workplaces, and magnesium does have a short-term health impact. So the message is to cut down. And liquid magnesium is a good alternative. Fun fact by the way: pot balls have virtually no impact on dust in the hall. The only thing that works is NO powder or switching to liquid.
Outside, the impact is mainly visual and not so nice for the sport element. There is no more onsight climbing in many areas. All grips are nicely marked with white tick marks or completely whitewashed. Visual pollution can also become a problem because we share our climbing areas with other nature lovers and they naturally question this pollution. Not to mention recent scientific research shows that magnesium has an impact on moss and plant growth even if it does not leave visible traces.
The product of magnesium powder is also not a very clean activity. It is extracted in large mines, 70% of it in China, in a process that uses a lot of fossil fuels and causes a lot of local pollution. Easily visible on satellite images.
What Chalk Rebels does
CHALK REBELS tries to help in two ways. 1) Product development. We have developed an alternative form of liquid “magnesium” which is transparent and does not leave any traces on rock or create dust. We are also developing new forms of classic white “liquid” magnesium. The latest innovation is that we have found a formula that is twice as effective as normal magnesium and that is extracted from seawater. So no more polluting mines. 2) Prevention. We realise that magnesium use is completely ingrained in the climbing world. We think it’s a bit like smoking. A bad habit. Forty years ago, it was perfectly normal. You can’t change it overnight. Hence our slogan “LESS CHALK”: let’s simply start cutting down. Switching to liquid whenever possible is already a first step. But no magnesium is also possible. Simon Montmory, for example, climbs 8C barefoot & without magnesium.
What we and you can do
We think that the Olympic Games will further popularise the sport. We think it is important to encourage beginning climbers to use liquid magnesium. Because what you start with, you continue with.
We recommend the following to everyone:
Use LESS magnesium powder. Just start using less. You need much less than you think.
Use liquid magnesium as a base layer when sport climbing or as a complete replacement when bolstering.
Brush your grips after climbing.
Climbing gyms may encourage the use of liquid magnesium. That’s good for their employees, good for the climbers & good for their wallets. Because all that dust adds up to extra cleaning costs.
In November Chalk Rebels will be running a crowdfunding campaign to switch their production process from mined magnesium-carbonate to a more eco-friendly seawater-based process. Subscribe to their IG to stay in the loop.
Want to check out your chalk use and what alternatives you can get? Head down to Chalk Rebels to read more about chalk and check their solutions (to clarify, we are excited about the company Francis and Tiny run and have no stakes in Chalk Rebels).